Getting started in numismatics

Young or old, affluent or not, all sorts of people find coin collecting an accessible hobby. Many famous collectors started as children or young adults, and this is also the kind of hobby and vocation that gets passed to generations within families and shared with friends. Because studying numismatics also involves learning about history, politics, art and much more, this hobby has educational value. Of course, coin collectors also find this hobby exciting and sometimes, profitable. The first step for novice coin collectors usually includes learning the language of coin collecting. Special terms describe a coin's condition, type and appearance. Mastery of basic terms opens the door to gaining more knowledge.


collectionStart Your Collection

Learning coin terminology and acquiring basic collecting knowledge are important first steps for those entering the numismatic hobby.




historyCoin History

From the U.S. Mint’s first facilities, to the discovery of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, read about the historical places, people and events that have shaped numismatics.




metalsPrecious Metals

Bullion investing and coin collecting go hand in hand. Learn all about the basics of investing and the many different bullion coins available.




coinsKnow Your U.S. Coins

What’s so special about the Morgan dollar? How many different types of Lincoln cents have there been? Get familiar with all U.S. coins, past and present.



Making coins come alive

The very first American colonists had little need for coins in the wilderness. They bartered with trade goods, Native American wampumand tobacco. As civilization grew, the British did not always give the Americans permission to mint their own coins, but the colonists found alternative sources of coins and on occasion, struck coins without royal authority. For example, the Massachusetts Bay Colony set up its own mint in Boston in 1652 during a period when England lacked a king and continued striking 1652-dated silver coins for decades. Thus, early examples of U.S. Colonial coins were born. In April of 1792, the U.S. Mint was established in Philadelphia, the nation's capital at the time.

Numismatics, the studying of coins, and the collecting of coins both stand apart from investing in coins for their bullion value. Still, the bullion value of most collectible coins still needs to get considered. Even today, the U.S. Mint and mints of other nations’ produce bullion coins that are different from regular coins intended for currency. Through much of history, coins derived most of their value from their metal content. While people used coins as currency for thousands of years, the practice might have been closer to trading small bits of copper, silver, gold and other precious metals. However, as gold and silver rose in value, the intrinsic worth of the precious metals in the coins began to exceed their face value. In the U.S., for example, the replacement of 90 percent silver coins with base metal coins began in 1965.

Learning about U.S. coins means learning about the history of the country. Very often, decisions about a coin's content, value and design were made because of political, economic or social events of the time that they were minted. In some cases, political figures or mint executives even made decisions because of favoritism, nepotism or personal competitions — and learning these details makes old coins come alive.


Know your U.S. coins: Anthony dollar

What U.S. coin can claim these firsts?

  • The first circulating coin to depict an actual woman instead of an allegorical representation.
  • First circulating coin to bear a non-circular rim device.
  • First circulating dollar coin to bear the "P" Mint mark and only the second denomination to bear the "P" Mint mark.
  • First dollar coin struck strictly in a non-precious metal alloy.

The "firsts" are only accorded the Susan B. Anthony dollar. It's amazing that a coin that incurred so much scorn could still be such a trendsetter in its own way.

COIN VALUES: See how much Susan B. Anthony dollar coins are worth today

A serious discussion of a smaller-sized dollar coin began after a September 1976 study was released by the U.S. Mint. The year-long study, conducted by Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina, focused on U.S. coinage system requirements through 1990. The RTI recommended that cent production be halted by 1980, the dollar coin be downsized and the half dollar be eliminated.

At the same time, the Treasury released a study titled "A New Small Dollar Coin - Technical Considerations." That study recommended the new dollar be the same composition as the quarter dollar - 75 percent copper, 25 percent nickel bonded to a copper core, and that it be round.

The new dollar was recommended to be 26.54 millimeters in diameter (a quarter dollar is 24.3mm), weigh 8 grams, be 2.03mm thick, and have a distinctive security edge so it could be distinguished from slugs and other coins.

Frank Gasparro was the U.S. Mint's chief engraver when the Anthony dollar was authorized. When discussion of a smaller-sized dollar coin came about, Gasparro hoped he would get the opportunity to create a classic design. He prepared sketches and models for an obverse featuring Liberty with flowing hair and pole and Phrygian cap behind her head, similar to the portrait on the Liberty Cap half cent and cent of 1793. Gasparro's proposed reverse design featured an eagle flying over a mountain, 13 stars and the sun's rays.

Meanwhile, a contingent in Congress was leaning toward placing feminist Susan B. Anthony's portrait on the coin. Many collectors lobbied against the Anthony proposal in favor of a more traditional, allegorical portrait.

Ultimately, both of Gasparro's original submissions were rejected in favor of a portrait of the suffragist who led the fight that eventually won women the right to vote. The reverse would be the same one Gasparro created for the reverse of the Eisenhower dollar – an adaptation of the Apollo 11 insignia patch designed by astronaut Michael Collins - called "Eagle Landing on the Moon."

Gasparro's initial Anthony portrait was based on photographs provided by her nephews and it reflected a younger-looking Anthony. Design changes, requested by other Anthony relatives, produced a portrait of a much older woman and that's the design that came off the coin press at the Philadelphia Mint during first-strike ceremonies Dec. 13, 1978.

Despite Treasury hopes of saving money – $30 million a year was projected by reducing the demand for the $1 Federal Reserve note – the Anthony dollar never caught on with the public, which claimed the coin was too similar in size to the quarter dollar. A total of 857.2 million were struck for circulation during its first two years of issue – 1979 and 1980. Anthony dollars were struck at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints in Uncirculated condition and in both Uncirculated and Proof versions at the San Francisco Mint. Anthony dollars produced in 1981 were struck exclusively for collector sale and none were placed into circulation.

The vending industry, which had supported the change in size but fought against a more distinctive multi-edged coin, never fully converted vending machines to accept the new, smaller dollar. The coins were produced for circulation and collectors' sets in 1979 and 1980, and only for collectors in 1981. In the fall of 1985 the Mint began offering Anthony dollar sets through its catalog of products. The response surprised many, as the Anthony dollars were among the most popular items in the catalog.

In an effort to decrease the government's inventory of some 360 million SBA dollars, the U.S. Postal Service installed 9,000 vending machines to dispense Anthony dollars in change in 1993. Although USPS officials were not sure if the program would succeed, it contributed to a drawdown on Anthony dollars in Federal Reserve and Mint vaults and as of February 1996 the total left in inventory was 229.5 million coins. The dollar coin drawn down accelerated due to the needs of commerce. It had become a convenient coin to use in the nation's transit systems and vending machines. Even though a new dollar coin had been authorized for 2000, it became obvious by late 1998 that in order to meet demand and bridge the gap from the depletion of the existing Anthony dollar coins it would be necessary to strike 1999 Anthony dollars. The go-ahead was given in June to begin striking 1999 Anthony dollars at both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints in early fall. The dollars from that production began entering circulation in late November. The Philadelphia Mint struck 29,592,000 and the Denver Mint struck 11,776,000 Anthony dollars for circulation. Collectors also benefited by being offered single Proof versions of the 1999 Anthony dollar struck at Philadelphia and two-coin Uncirculated sets of Anthony dollars from Denver and Philadelphia. The Proof 1999-P mintage was 749,090.

Several varieties are recognized, including two for the 1979-S: the Filled S and the Clear S Mint mark.

During 1979 Mint engravers began using a new, much clearer S Mint mark punch to replace the old, blobbish S Mint mark in use. The old-style S has straight sides, and was used on both circulated and Proof Anthony dollars. A much clearer S was introduced on both Proof and Uncirculated strikes later that same year. In 1981 the S Mint mark introduced in 1979 was replaced with an even clearer Open S Mint mark.

The Wide Rim variety of 1979-P Anthony dollars (with the 11-sided rim being wider than the standard, Narrow Rim coins) was once considered scarce, but as more coins were released from inventory that proved not to be true.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:


Dimes and half dimes:


Half dollars:


Gold coins:

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